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Class III – in the House of Commons at 8:02 pm on 12th July 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

[Relevant documents: The Ninth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, on the Integrated Transport White Paper, hC 32-I; and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions Departmental Report: The Government's Expenditure Plans 1999–2000 to 2001–02 (Cm 4204).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a further revised sum not exceeding £25,917,026,000 be granted to her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to complete or defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 2000 for expenditure by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.—[Mr. Hanson.]

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich 8:16 pm, 12th July 1999

Owing to a serendipitous spelling mistake in the report we have published today, which includes the Government's response to the ninth report of our Committee, on integrated transport, the words of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister have been described not as "Foreword from the Deputy Prime Minister", but as "Forward with the Deputy Prime Minister", which is a useful indication of what is happening to the transport system under the present Government. That is true not least because some people not unconnected with the previous Government have, on the road to Damascus, discovered the transport system. That is a welcome change, but it is not one on which the Government have based their examination of the need for proper planning of the transport system.

When we talk about an integrated transport system, we tend to talk about individual types of transport without saying that what we need to do is to think seriously about whether our modern society can continue to make a god of the combustion engine. That is not to say that it will be simple to encourage people out of their little tin boxes into alternative forms of transport, or that the car is not needed. It is not even to say that we should take a punitive attitude to one form of transport and ignore the implications for others. It is to say that we have to plan the transport system if we want to tackle congested cities and roads; if we care about the quality of the air we breathe; if we care about children who live in those cities; and if we want a civilised society in which quality of life is related to housing and to the facilities and services available to us.

This applies across the board, and does not involve merely seeking ways to build more and more roads. The previous Government did that and, when it turned out too expensive, they produced more and more wish lists of what they thought was important in transport.

We want something very different. We want a rail system—some of it is 120 years old—that is fully integrated with a bus system that has, alas, been allowed to run down. That integrated system should be fully responsive to the needs of elderly and young alike, and not regarded as a second-rate alternative whose importance is demeaned and for which Government expenditure priorities are ignored.

The Select Committee report looks at all forms of transport and how they should relate to each other. We have considered where more Government money, muscle and urgency should be applied, and we have searched for the positive points that can be gathered from our study.

I regret that the amount of legislation on constitutional change that has gone through the House has meant that we have had to wait two years to get the Bill establishing the Strategic Rail Authority. That important piece of legislation will come before the House in the autumn, and it will give impetus to the changes that need to be made to the rail system. The Bill will try to bring together all the disparate and warring elements of the private railway system, and weld them into a useful and tolerable pattern. Our railways will thus be improved, and people will be able to travel on safe, clean and reliable trains.

I hope that the Bill will follow the Committee's recommendations. For example, we believe that the industry should plan to make bus and rail stations information points and the nubs of properly integrated services, and that those stations should be made to relate to each other.

We believe that we should not think of railways without thinking about the safety of the people who travel by rail, which means enforcement, and ensuring a high standard of cleanliness and safety. Moreover, we should not think of bus services as a transport system in decline, used only by the poor. We should plan to put Government money into rural bus services and better facilities, and thus ensure that they are related, one to another.

When the Committee asks for more staff to man rail and bus stations for longer hours, we are responding to what so many passengers want. They want better lighting so that they feel safe, and they want to know that all facilities are readily accessible. That is what people want—be they the elderly, mothers with young children, or people who simply need a reliable and punctual service.

The Government will have to give serious consideration to the powers that the Strategic Rail Authority and the regulators will have. Those bodies will need the power to compel operators to integrate services, which should not be allowed to operate as if they were totally independent of one another.

Local transport plans will require considerable Government funding. The Government will have to tell those companies taking taxpayer's money that they must produce results. Money must not be used to fund companies that respond by upping payments to shareholders without providing the services that people need.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Does the hon. Lady agree that interventionism and central planning, such as she has described, are unlikely to achieve the increase in numbers of passengers that the companies need if they are to make the greater profits that she mentioned? It is a mistake to say that the companies are awful because they are trying to make lots of money. The companies are splendid for exactly that reason, as they make money by attracting more passengers to use their trains and buses. In that way, they achieve exactly what the hon. Lady desires.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Unfortunately, many of the companies have grown so used to managing for decline that they have not responded to the perceived stimuli of the market, or to the needs set out by local authorities and passengers. It is extraordinary that bus companies must be encouraged to think seriously about the quality of the services that they provide. When I visited my local hospital on Friday, for example, it was a great relief to find that Cheshire county council is using Government money to provide high-quality buses at the times and places that they are needed and of the size required. That should not be a difficult or revolutionary idea: it is a sensible response to the needs of the modern passenger.

I know that other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who is my co-Chairman on the Committee, will want to talk about the aspects of the Government plan that cover the environment, housing and planning. In the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, Chairmen come in pairs, like all good dining room furniture. I hope that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate.

The Committee looked at the amounts of money being spent by the Government and the facilities that that money is being used to provide. My reservations about Railtrack are well known, but the Committee studied in great detail the amounts of money that it has promised for investment. We looked at some grandiose plans that boil down to quite small amounts of cash, and we examined the suggestion that Railtrack could invest only if it got matching money from—guess who?—the taxpayer.

I am afraid that we said some rather harsh things. For instance, we said that we did not think that Railtrack was very entrepreneurial, and that we saw no evidence in the company's track record that it was prepared to put money into the system. We also made it clear that we expected the Government, and especially the new regulator, to look closely at the deals that were being offered. There has to be an end to the assumption—made by all transport companies when they are in trouble—that they can run to the Government for a few bars of gold without being expected to provide results. I look forward, therefore, to the establishment of the new Strategic Rail Authority in the autumn.

I believe that the Government's plans for light rail will transform many cities. It is extraordinary that people seem to think that there is an advantage to be gained from sitting in a traffic jam. We are allowing our city centres to become more and more clogged because we refuse to plan for any management of the combustion engine; but that does the motorist no favours. Given the increase in car ownership, we cannot continue to allow people continually to use their motor cars when proper alternatives exist. However, those alternatives must be seamless, comfortable, clean and available, and I believe that those aspects of the problem are set out very well in the report.

It is also rather depressing that Conservative Members should have published today's slightly strange statement about their being the motorist's friends. I understand the reason, but it is sad that those elements of our report that deal with road safety and speed are ignored by the proposals in the Opposition's press statement. It is as if the attainment of lower road accident statistics and the achievement of improved safety are not important. Speed kills, and it continues to kill. Those who ignore that fact will be personally responsible for the deaths of many people in future.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Lady has obviously not read the document to which she refers.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport)

She may have a little flyer, but the document in its entirety deals substantially with safety issues. We think that 3,500 deaths on the road every year are far too many. Will she agree, first, that the Government whom she supports inherited one of the best road safety records in Europe? Secondly, does she agree that the slashed investment in the roads programme means that roads will continue to be dangerous that would otherwise have been made safe by these schemes, had the Government continued to invest in them? Who then is responsible for the continuing deaths on British roads today?

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

The hon. Gentleman will get his chance to make his own speech and his own apologia pro vita sua. Frankly, to suggest to motorists that there is an easy way out of congestion by not planning for the future is not only a failure of a political party, but an irresponsible attitude to the use of road transport. However, I have been tempted twice and I promise not to be tempted again, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The reality is that the Government think seriously not only about the integration of cycling, walking and the various transport systems, but about freight. In response to the suggestions in our report, they have laid out some sensible plans which most of us will want to be carried out as soon as possible. However, that will require co-operation from the railway system, co-operation in road transport, and a considerable amount of rethinking the role of the city—the way in which and the speed at which we deliver goods, and the manner in which we plan our transport and freight systems. That will require the support and certainly the clear view of the Government.

I wish to make one or two personal comments in closing. The Deputy Prime Minister has not always had a good press because he insists on making it clear that he believes that transport is fundamental to the economy and planning of the United Kingdom. That is a subject that seems to have been rediscovered only recently. The fact that we have had to wait some time for legislation, even though sums of money have been poured into different aspects of transport, might give the impression that there was no sense of urgency in the Government. I do not believe that that is so.

When the Deputy Prime Minister goes out of his way to write a foreword to a Select Committee report saying, As we approach the beginning of the 21st century, we are entering a new era in transport policy.There is a growing consensus that we cannot go on as we have been", he reflects a set of priorities that the Government and certainly the House ought to regard as vital.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde

I am exceedingly grateful to my hon. Friend for her characteristic courtesy in giving way. She has mentioned safety on more than one occasion. My question relates to maritime safety and to the laudable objective outlined on page 171 of the annual report of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: that of improving safety for those who use the sea for transport, employment or leisure". Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the Government's response to her excellent report on the Coastguard agency?

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

As my hon. Friend knows, the Committee and I have strong views on the Coastguard service. There will be no safety for the people of this country unless we understand that it is the maintenance of that vital service that keeps us all safe as we use the seas.

Finally, I am proud of the report. The Select Committee worked hard on it. All members of that Committee contributed considerably. The Government's response shows that they understand that it maps the way forward. Their response is good. Let us now, as it says in the foreword, go forward with the Deputy Prime Minister.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 8:34 pm, 12th July 1999

This is certainly a timely opportunity for a debate on the ninth report of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. The debate coincides with press reports that the Deputy Prime Minister will keep his transport job and with the Conservatives reaffirming the strength of what they claim is their love for the motorist.

The previous Administration fuelled the demand for more cars by building more roads. That is clearly identified on page 91 of the annual report of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Between 1979 and 1997, total capital expenditure on roads topped £50 billion, and between 1986 and 1996, almost 1,700 km of motorways and trunk roads were completed. Did that help to ease congestion? Did it help motorists, businesses, pedestrians or the less well off? No, it did not. It only ensured that traffic increased by a total of 75 per cent. over the period.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Opposition Whip (Commons)

Can the hon. Gentleman imagine what would have happened during that period of great economic growth, and hence transport growth, if that road-building programme had not been put in place? What would congestion now be like if we had not built those roads?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. No doubt she will have heard of predict and provide in road building.

One looks in vain to the Department's annual report for significant measures to tackle congestion. That lack of policy is reflected, at paragraph 62 of the Select Committee's report, by witnesses who gave evidence that current Government policy fails to provide for road traffic reduction.

Tough choices are being postponed because Galaxy man must be allowed to cruise. That is why paragraph 63 of the Select Committee report describes the White Paper as vague about the rate of traffic growth the Government would consider acceptable. That is also why the Select Committee makes no fewer than 76 recommendations about how to tackle the transport crisis that the country faces.

On the London underground, the public-private partnership is behind time and has been criticised by almost everyone who has more than a passing knowledge of the subject, including academics, business men, Labour MPs and trade unionists. It has also been criticised in a report of the Transport Sub-Committee. Chapter 13 of the DETR annual report highlights that very problem, and states that the London Transport grant will fall to just £81 million in 2001, on the basis that the PPP will kick in at that point. It will not, however.

The Government' recent White Paper, "A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone", and their consultation paper, "Breaking the Logjam", were welcome and made constructive suggestions about how to improve public transport and encourage more cycling. Yet the Select Committee deemed it necessary to highlight, in recommendation (s), that there will be no increase in cycling if it is not made safer, making it impossible to fulfil the requirement to double cycle use in the UK.

Any Bill will need to achieve four aims: reduce overall traffic levels; produce greater cohesion between modes of transport; give a greater incentive for commuters to use public transport, and allow local authorities to reuse funds raised from road charging for investment in public transport. All those points are contained in the report's recommendations.

A reduction in overall traffic levels must be the starting point for any integrated transport policy. Everyone recognises the need to do something about congestion and traffic. Yet as I have already stated, that is entirely missing from the Government's plans and the White Paper, though it is highlighted in the Select Committee report. Chapter 7 of the DETR's annual report is unhelpful and refers only to reducing traffic growth.

The Government have made a two-stage promise: first, to reduce traffic growth and then to reverse it. That was the correct promise, and that is what the Select Committee report calls for. The promise should be kept because of the increase in asthma. There are now 3 million asthma sufferers in the UK, half of whom are children. The DETR has a clear objective on that, and chapter 7 of its annual report says that its work is aimed at improving health.

The two-stage promise should be kept because of the Government's international pledges, signed in Kyoto, to reduce CO, emissions. In the UK, CO, emissions from road transport are the fastest growing contributor to climate change. In fact, vehicle emissions account for more than one fifth of CO, emissions in the UK. The objective is of course identified in the Department's annual report, which refers to the important contributions to climate change and air quality targets that the transport sector can make. No one must forget that the UK has signed a legally binding target to reduce greenhouse gases, and that the Labour party has made a commitment to reducing CO2, emissions by 20 per cent.

The promises must be kept for these very reasons—and others, such as the need to reduce road congestion. Road congestion costs British industry £15 billion a year, and the annual report does not neglect that. It identifies 37 road schemes that will save £2.35 billion in operating costs, which must be welcomed.

An obvious point that is often forgotten is that the car, which gives independence to many, does not give independence to the one third of all households that do not have access to one. We know that such households tend to be worse off. So a love affair with the car can be socially regressive. The car does not, as the official Opposition's document that was published today claims, "liberate" those without one. These are the reasons why we must reduce road traffic, as is acknowledged at paragraph 74 of the report.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain how reducing the availability of the car and people's access to it will increase mobility and freedom? That seems to be what he is arguing.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

That was not the point that I was making. I was referring to the need to reduce road traffic. An exclusive emphasis on the role of the car, neglecting the fact that one third of people do not have access to one, is socially regressive.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I am sure that I would be called to order by the Deputy Speaker if I took too many interventions on the same point.

We should move towards taxing the use, not the ownership, of vehicles. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree with that key point. We should increase vehicle excise duty for the least efficient vehicles, and abolish it for those that are most efficient. The Select Committee's ninth report is perhaps too reticent on that subject.

Taxing fuel is fine, but to achieve a reduction in traffic, we must invest in public transport. The motorist must see some gain before a moderate amount of pain. Services and routes provided by different modes of transport must be co-ordinated, and journey terminals should be linked so that switching between bus and train or train and bicycle becomes simple and safe. Many recommendations in the report refer to aspects of such issues.

We should create a strategic transport authority that has responsibility for both rail and bus regulation. I am disappointed that the Select Committee did not take up that option.

We must target journeys that pollute the most and which are easiest to reduce in number. That means two things: giving greater incentives to commuters to use public transport, and reducing the number of people who take their children to school by car. Some progress has been made through the safer routes to school initiative, which I hope will be further expanded. The Select Committee did not overlook such points in its report.

Local authorities have a huge part to play in improving our transport infrastructure. We should allow them to introduce road congestion charging where public transport alternatives are available or under development. Crucially, we must let them keep the revenue from road charging, parking and fines to facilitate reinvestment in public transport. That is covered by recommendation (ppp) of the ninth report.

We have to enable local authorities to use carrots in their fight against congestion. Local authorities will need the financial resources to introduce pedestrian zones, public-transport-only zones, and home zones with 20 mph limits and traffic calming schemes. Without finance, car-free city centres that are pleasant to live, work and shop in will remain a pipedream. That is why I wholly support recommendation (qqq) of the ninth report, which would give local authorities the ability to raise money for investment on the basis of future revenue streams.

To conclude, I believe that the Government should hold firm to their commitments and respond positively to the recommendations in the Select Committee report. They should not backtrack in the face of a Tory relaunch as the motorist's friend. The Liberal Democrats firmly believe that the measures outlined in the ninth report should be implemented. They would reduce overall traffic levels, increase cohesion as between modes of transport, provide more incentive for commuters to use public transport, and allow local authorities to re-use funds raised from road charging for investment in public transport. But the Government are running out of time, and they need to make an urgent start now.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley 8:46 pm, 12th July 1999

I have spent nearly 20 years arguing with the Deputy Prime Minister about aviation policy, trams and regional policy—agreeing more than disagreeing—but I should like to say, in the light of the disputes that there have been, that this country is very lucky to have a Deputy Prime Minister with his experience and expertise. In his response, he acknowledges that the only significant difference between the Select Committee and the Government is on the speed and the amount of resources, not on the general direction in which the Select Committee and the Government are going.

I have watched, listened and read with incredulity the statements by the Conservative Opposition in the past week. If I am right, this morning the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was saying that people were rushing to get on buses—that competition in the bus industry had worked. Has he actually read the statistics showing what has happened to the bus industry since deregulation in 1985?

There has been a 70 per cent. cut in subsidy. When Conservative Members are clamouring for more resources for road building, for railways and for buses, they should remember that, during their time in office, the money that was going to buses in most of the country was cut by 70 per cent.—in London, between 90 per cent. and nearly 100 per cent. During the same period, passenger numbers fell by 30 per cent. and bus miles went up by 30 per cent. I shall return to that point. Fares rose by 25 per cent. in rural areas and 50 per cent. in urban areas.

In the privatised industry, for 10 years or so there was almost no investment in buses. That destroyed the manufacture of buses in this country; only two factories are left. In fact, the bus industry was a complete mess. We did not get competition at the end of that period; we certainly got a great deal of pollution. That meant extra bus miles and fewer passengers, and as a result the Conservative Government achieved something that one would have thought scarcely possible before their time in office—in many city centres, each bus passenger mile created greater pollution than each car passenger mile. Only the deplorably inefficient system that they had created could have done that.

The Opposition have been saying that competition in the bus industry is working. Admittedly, in the first two to four years after deregulation and the privatisation of much of the industry, there was huge and inefficient competition on the roads in most urban areas, while buses simply disappeared in many rural areas. Road space in cities was wasted. However, we have now left behind the time when buses were driven dangerously and neither cars nor buses could get along our roads.

We are in a post-competitive phase. Circumstantial and direct evidence given by competitor companies is overwhelming in every city. It is that there are cartels and anti-competitive practices. From Manchester, for example, reports and evidence were provided to the Select Committee from a number of bus companies. However, the market is dominated by Stagecoach in the south and by FirstGroup in the north. Rarely do these companies compete with each other. Of course, Greater Manchester is a large area and there are one or two smaller companies.

There have been fascinating interviews. Stagecoach and FirstGroup have been interviewed twice because of their dominant position in the market. Simple questions have been asked. For example, "If Stagecoach has lower fares, better buses, has invested more than FirstGroup, provides a more reliable service and by and large has demonstrated that in Greater Manchester it offers a better service, why does it not compete in the areas of the north where FirstGroup is running a poor, inefficient service with higher fares?" It seems that the company cannot give an answer that would stand up to any criticism. In fact, it is implementing anti-competitive practices. It is almost a cartel. That is to the disbenefit of the travelling public.

That is why the Select Committee and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, in two interviews, are firmly in favour of re-regulating the bus industry. Whether it is quality contracts or re-regulation, when bus companies are operating as I have described and a Government are determined to improve the public transport system by improving bus services, there is a need for regulation. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has said, if four or five extra passengers travel on a bus and that brings £400 million into the bus industry—I think that that is the figure—not all of that money will go into transport improvements or helping the passenger. The money will simply be bottom lined. That is why the Select Committee is in favour of regulation of one—

Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn Labour, Scarborough and Whitby

Would my hon. Friend care to speculate on why the previous Conservative Government decided not to take the deregulation route for the capital? Why did they decide that London was a special case?

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

Having seen the chaos that had been created in the west midlands, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, I think that they decided that there were too many marginal seats in London to make it wise electorally to bring the so-called benefits of deregulation to the capital. Wisely, or for self-interest, that was their decision. London is the only part of the country where passenger numbers have not fallen.

For the first time since the second world war, there has been a 1 per cent. increase in the number of people using buses. That is extremely good. It has been brought about by some of the work done through quality partnerships by various local authorities and passenger transport executives. However, there is scant evidence that motorists are leaving their cars at home or that pensioners or other bus users are using buses more often. Most of the evidence, such as it is, is that those who are already using buses are using them more often rather than people making a modal change. That is important if we are to have the capacity in the public transport system to underpin a thriving economy.

As for metrolink and trams, there has been a dialogue between the Select Committee and the Government, after two reports, about the benefit of light rapid transit systems. In terms of Greater Manchester, one of their benefits is that they are a proven way getting motorists to leave their cars at home. The Manchester tram system, which is an old rail system connected through the centre of the city, is reducing the number of car journeys per year by 2.5 million. That is a terrific benefit to the atmosphere, to the travelling public and to the motorist. The system is being extended to Eccles, and the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority wants to extend it into north Manchester, to Oldham and Rochdale, into east Manchester out to Ashton-under-Lyne and into south Manchester, to the airport.

I hope that the Government will find a way to fund the expansion. Eventually the system will be self-funding, but it needs some initial capital, through a private finance initiative arrangement, the public sector or privately. Later, by using car parking charges or some other means, it will balance.

The benefits to the Government and the travelling public would be enormous. The system would take up to 10 million cars off the road every year and reduce the number of car journeys by 11 million vehicle/kilometres a year. It would create 5,000 jobs and increase the gross domestic product of Greater Manchester by £169 million. It would also benefit the Government by providing an example of an integrated transport system that worked. All of us who care about public transport need that.

The system that would run into Manchester airport would be the first multi-modal interchange that brought together trams, trains, aeroplanes and buses. It is a national disgrace that only two airports in this country are served by fast main-line trains. A tram link would help to ensure that more people used public transport to reach Manchester airport. I should declare an interest as a former director of Manchester airport and as a former member of the Greater Manchester transport authority.

I conclude with two points. Some of the proposals in the White Paper are for the medium term and some must be long term. One of the proposals in the present report and in other reports from the Select Committee on future housing projections has stated firmly that we should not use as many green-field sites as we are using. In the north-west there are sufficient brown-field sites on which to build all the houses required for the foreseeable future. If we want fewer transport problems in future, we must ensure that we use those sites. That will increase the density of population in the city. One has merely to do the sums and compare the effect of 1,000 houses 10 miles from the city centre with the effect of 1,000 houses in the city centre to realise the benefit. That is one long-term solution.

The Select Committee is at present looking into driving tests. We have also considered vehicle inspection and pollution. On every issue that we examine, we find that there is insufficient enforcement, whether in relation to diesel pollution on motorways or cars in cities, where about 20 per cent. of the cars that are badly maintained cause 80 per cent. of the pollution. We are currently receiving evidence that between 800,000 and 2 million people in Britain are driving without driving licences. That is a shocking figure. If there were more enforcement by the Vehicle Inspectorate, the police and all the other enforcement authorities, that would bring about a short-term improvement in the transport situation.

9 pm

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Serving on a Select Committee produces a curious kind of split personality: one finds oneself liking, admiring, listening to and even becoming friends with those with whom one has fundamental disagreements. For example, it is an honour to serve under the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), whose grasp of sound common sense often makes me wonder how she can possibly be in the same Labour party as some of her hon. Friends. Equally, one respects the knowledge that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) has of Manchester and of the inner cities, although he perhaps knows less of other areas.

I often tweak the tail of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) because he talks glibly about the countryside even though he lives in central London. He is more at home talking about such things as walking, cycling, integrated transport and cutting vehicle emissions, which are the home territory of the Liberal Democrats, than some of the issues on which he pontificates often in this place.

The report of the Transport Sub-Committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee was technically unanimous. Some of us abstained, but we certainly did not divide the Committee. However, we produced a press release highlighting our fundamental differences with a number of points in the report. The whole point of the report is the search for the great grail of an integrated transport system. Every politician of every party in the history of parties has sought to achieve integrated transport—of course they have. I agree with everything the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said about us having to find ways of integrating trains and buses—of course I do; what sensible person would not? But the trouble with so much that new Labour does is that it concerns not what to do and how to achieve it, but aspirations, launches, glossy new brochures, clever cliches and constant talk about the millennium.

I am beginning to suffer from millennium fatigue. I shudder to think what I will do the next time a Minister says that we will drive forward into the new millennium and that everything will be different on 2 January 2000, but that is what so much of the integrated transport White Paper is all about. It is not about doing things, what will happen or legislation that will be in the Queen's Speech, but what we would all like to happen—the 19 daughter papers and all that. There are marvellous words and clever spinning, but that does not amount to a row of beans. Of course we did not divide the Committee, because of course we agree with the vague aspirations in the report, but it was important that we put out a press release highlighting our differences with the majority of the Committee because so much in it simply does not stack up.

The Government's response to the Select Committee report, which was issued at some pace this afternoon, equally tends to the aspirational—the "hand everything over to a new Committee" way of looking at politics—rather than to anything realistic. It seems to me, to the papers and to every observer across the nation that their whole transport policy is seizing up in the most extraordinary way, but perhaps that is hardly surprising considering who is running it. Just look at who is in charge: the man whose only claim to any knowledge of transport of any kind at all is that he was a steward on a cross-channel ferry and that he now owns two Jaguars.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

From a sedentary position, the hon. Lady says that I am a snob. She is quite wrong as I come from a grammar school background. Nothing is snobbish about me, I assure her. My point, which is a powerful one, is that the Deputy Prime Minister has had no experience of any kind of anything to do with transport policy, with the single exception of being an agitator in the National Union of Seamen as a result of his job as a steward on a cross-channel ferry. That is his only experience of transport and that is the point I was making; it has nothing whatever to do with snobbery.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Opposition Whip (Commons)

I fear that my hon. Friend is doing the Deputy Prime Minister a disservice. Yesterday, he increased his experience of transport by travelling by helicopter to Silverstone, while the people whom his party always appears to address were waiting in queues on the motorway.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I understand that, when the Deputy Prime Minister got there, he was so upset by his experience of travelling by helicopter and looking down at the plebs stuck in the traffic that when he went to ask officials how our best driver was doing, he inquired, "How's Damien?". They looked back at him blankly, because he had, of course, mistaken the driver's first name.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

If the hon. Gentleman is so opposed to the contents of the report, why did he not vote against it rather than using the bolthole of issuing a press release, which he now thinks justifies his point of view?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I was happy, in my opening remarks, to try to draw a blind over our reason for not dividing the Committee, but as the hon. Gentleman asks me, perhaps the House will allow me to spell it out in detail. I made it plain to the Committee Chairman that I was determined to divide the Committee, but that, unfortunately, I was unable to be present in the Committee on the day on which the formal—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The reason was that I was having a private meeting with a Minister, who refused to move the time of the meeting.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I shall not give way as I have just done so.

I made it plain to the Chairman that, as I was unable to be there, I could not divide the Committee—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

No, I have given way already and we do not have much time to carry on this sort of banter. My party wholeheartedly and fundamentally disagrees with many of the points in the report. As we could not divide the Committee for procedural reasons, we produced a press release to highlight our differences.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who gets muddled up about the names of our racing buffs, presumably looked down from his helicopter and was unable to spot a bus lane clear of traffic—or a bus lane full of traffic.

I spotted an interesting paragraph in the Government's response to the Select Committee report. The Committee referred to bus lanes and the Government responded: We agree that comprehensive bus priority measures have a major part to play in making bus travel more attractive and better able to compete with the car in congested areas. My goodness, the Government have certainly tried to compete with the car. Presumably, it is all right for those in chauffeur-driven limos to compete with buses by making use of bus lanes, but not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) pointed out, for the rest of us who are queueing to get to Silverstone.

What happens to people who drive down bus lanes? The Government have helpfully pointed out in the report what should happen to people such as the Prime Minister, who abused his position by using a bus lane. The report says: We agree that bus lane infringements need to be subject to appropriately stringent penalties … infringements cause danger, as well as inconvenience, to other road users. I hope that, this evening, Ministers will carry that message, contained in paragraph (uu) of the Government's response to the report, back to No. 10 Downing street and say that it is not acceptable for Government car service drivers to break the speed limit and that they will get busted, just like the rest of us. Neither is it acceptable for them to drive on the wrong side of the road. It is not acceptable, in their words, to use even the "daft" bus lane—which the Deputy Prime Minister introduced—on the M4 on the way into London from Heathrow.

Frankly, the Deputy Prime Minister is a walking disaster. Perhaps it is just as well that he is walking, because if he were in a car he would be going nowhere fast. Under him comes the Minister for Transport. When we bumped into each other in the Tea Room a moment ago, I mentioned that I would be less than courteous, but I shall try to restrain my discourtesy to her because we all have the highest regard for her abilities in these areas and I mean no personal disrespect to her. However, there is a significant worry about her position in this debate. Constitutionally, she is disallowed from making any remarks about transport in Scotland. As a Scottish Member, the one thing that she may not do is represent her constituents on transport matters. She must leave that to somebody else in holyrood. What does the right hon. Lady do? She comes down here to Westminster and pontificates on English transport—only English transport—which has nothing whatever to do with Scotland. And my goodness, what a mess she makes of it.

Incidentally, I was interested in the remarks made earlier in the debate by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) on fox hunting. How odd it would be if Scottish Members of Parliament came down to England and voted out the English sport of fox hunting. We shall return to that at another time. The right hon. Lady for Shotts—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I beg the right hon. Lady's forgiveness for getting her constituency wrong. She is the personification of the West Lothian question. In the forthcoming reshuffle, the Prime Minister must address the question of why my constituents in North Wiltshire have a Scottish Member making a mess of their transport system—and my goodness, what a mess the Government are making of it.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

The hon. Gentleman is concentrating on personal and diversionary matters rather than on policy, because he has no policy.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I shall come to policy matters in a moment. My party has today published a policy paper that is full of interesting new ideas, so the hon. Lady is wrong. I should also correct her on one little point. I am not being the slightest bit personal. As I said, I have the highest respect for the Minister for Transport, and I am not being even slightly personal about her. She is in a constitutionally difficult position, because she is down here pontificating to my constituents in North Wiltshire.

Imagine if the Member of Parliament for North Wiltshire went to Edinburgh and said, "I want to come to the holyrood Parliament and be the Minister for Transport in Scotland. I want to sort out transport in Scotland. I represent North Wiltshire and have nothing to do with Scotland, but I want to pontificate about transport in Scotland." What a fuss there would be from the Labour party if I even suggested that, but that is exactly what has happened the other way round.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) is correct to put me right, so perhaps I should move on to the more meaty substance of the White Paper and the Government's response to the Select Committee's report. Other hon. Members will have something to say about other aspects of transport policy, such as the railways, buses, aircraft and airports, where odd things have been happening recently. I want to concentrate my efforts and remarks on the subject of road transport, which the nation has been most interested in recently.

People have heard the warm words and seen the policy launches—the Green Papers, the White Papers, the Committees and the working parties. The Deputy Prime Minister said that he would sort out transport, but people sit fuming in traffic jams up and down the country. People have seen petrol prices go through the roof: they are now as high as those in any other nation in Europe. Road haulage businesses have gone bust, or have been driven offshore because they cannot afford to pay the vehicle excise duty on their 20-tonne lorries. The road transport system is in the doldrums and in the grip of congestion.

What is the Government's dramatic and interesting new solution to this problem? They propose a variety of taxing proposals: road charging, congestion charging, work place charging, and the possibility of retail charging—which the Select Committee proposed, although the Government are not in favour of it, so there is a slight divide between them. How well would those charges work? What will happen if there is road pricing and road congestion charging?

Imagine that you are a company executive living in a large house in Surrey. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Riverside corrects my use of the word "you", which I am of course using hypothetically. Imagine that one is a fat cat living in a large mansion in Surrey with a large Rolls-Royce and a chauffeur.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Does the hon. Gentleman have sufficient memory banks to recall a Government Green Paper called "Transport: the way forward" published in 1996, which had a long section about road charging? It said that the then Government presumed in favour of road charging. Does he remember that, and does he wish to reflect on it?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

That has nothing whatever to do with my position. We have always been against extra taxation. In the paper that we published today, we have laid out—[Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, but it is a nervous laughter because they know that they are taxing the motorist off the road. We will not do that, and we are committed to reversing those taxes when we come back into power.

Never mind the party political points that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) tries to make, let us consider for a moment the practicalities of road pricing and road charging. Let us return to our chief executive living in a mansion in Surrey.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have given way quite a lot. [Interruption.] Oh, why not?

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because it is important that he is aware of his party's policy. All politicians should be aware of their own party's policy. I remind him that the 1996 Green Paper said: The Government will shortly be starting trials to explore whether it is technologically feasible to introduce electronic tolling on motorways. If these trials are successful, new opportunities will become available for shifting the emphasis of the costs of providing the motorway away from fixed towards marginal charges". The paper goes on to refer to experiments with road charging, with the presumption in favour of legislation. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that, or does he not?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test made precisely the same intervention a moment ago. It is obviously No. 23 on the Labour Whips' list of suggested interventions. The answer is no, I do not agree. Today's policy paper made it perfectly plain that we do not agree, and my press release—which I mentioned earlier, in connection with the Select Committee report—made it plain that we do not agree. We are wholeheartedly opposed to congestion charging, to workplace charging and to retail charging. It is the Labour party that is wholeheartedly committed to taxing the motorist off the road—but let us leave aside the party political aspect and discuss the practicalities, as I suggested we should a few minutes ago.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am pretty keen to get on, but of course I must give way to the right hon. Lady.

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

The hon. Gentleman is developing his theme. Can he tell us how his party intends to make up the shortfall of £10 million that would be a consequence of the document that was published today?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am afraid that I have no intention of doing anything of the sort, for a very simple reason. What we are discussing is the report of the Transport Sub-Committee on an integrated transport policy, and the Government's response to it. That is the purpose of the debate. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) will expand on the point, but it is no part of my business, as a Back Bencher, to do so.

All this party political banter is fine for those who are on the spot, as the Labour party is. I want to talk about some of the practicalities and details of road congestion, retail and workplace parking charging. It is quite interesting to note the way in which such measures will work. I was talking about a fat cat with a house in Surrey and a business in the City. At present—as the Minister for Transport suggests—he is having a terrible time: he cannot get into London because of congestion. So what does he want to do? He wants to tax congestion off the roads. That is not because he wants to get a train to the City; he wants to get rid of all those dreadful plebs.

So what are the Government going to do? They are going to do what the Greater London Authority Bill proposes and levy a £5-a-day congestion charge on those who wish to come into the centre of London. The chief executive of a bank in the City may be quite happy to pay £5 a day to be sure that the roads are clear; to a two-Jags fat cat, £5 a day is nothing. However, the Government are talking about the possibility of a workplace charge of £1,000 a year. Again, to the chairman of a bank in the City £1,000 would be small beer. He would pay far more than that to National Car Parks—£2,000 or £3,000 a year. A first-class ticket from Surrey would cost £4,000 or £5,000 a year, so £1,000 a year is nothing at all. But, my goodness—it would matter to one of my rural constituents, who has to drive an F-registered car to his or her workplace in Chippenham, if he or she had to pay £5 a day to get into Chippenham and £1,000 a year in work place charges. The Minister and other Labour Members, who spend all their time talking about London, the suburbs and the middle classes are not thinking about the people on whom the charges will bear down so heavily. The poor, the low-waged, the rural dwellers and the disabled—those are the people whom the Labour party has cast out in its drive towards new Labour policy.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire


Those are the people on whom workplace and congestion charges would bear down particularly heavily.

Retail charging is another Labour party proposal. Why not try to persuade out-of-town superstores to charge people to go there? What a strange idea. Eighty per cent. of us use supermarkets and buy a large amount of groceries. Indeed, some 320,000 people go to Safeway in Chippenham each week. So what are we to do? Let us charge them.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

That is right. Let us tax them. We cannot have all these people going to supermarkets; let us tax them. First, however, let us ask Safeway to charge them for using its car park. What a nonsense. Retail charging would bring in only 6p per person per year, which will not greatly change behaviour. All this constitutes is a tax on the buyer and a tax on the driver. That is what new Labour is about: tax, tax and tax again.

Labour Members say that the whole point about the charges is that they will be hypothecated. They will be hypothecated for 10 years, of course; no more than that. After 10 years, the funds will go into the Treasury. During the debate on the Greater London Authority, the Minister for Transport in London talked about how important it was that the mayor should have some revenue. The view is, "We will get the mayor some revenue. We will charge the motorist. That will be marvellous. Tax the motorist and pay the money to the mayor."

Britain's roads are at a standstill. Britain's transport is in a shambles. The Labour party is to blame. In its paper, the only solution that it can come up with is a few warm words, a few committees, a few shiny bits of paper and tax, tax and tax again. Today, we have come up with a new document that lays out some vibrant, important, interesting and useful proposals for getting Britain's transport going.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am just winding up my speech, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman was on the subject of useful points that the Conservative document proposes. Are two of them getting rid of traffic humps and stopping local authorities using traffic calming?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

No. Of course, those come into the document in a variety of ways, but we talk about removing the fuel duty escalator and getting petrol prices back down to where they should be. We talk about sorting out road freight, which the Government have driven off our roads and on to the continent. We are sorting out the trains and the buses. We are talking about practical and sensible transport policies to get Britain going again.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I am sorry. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am winding up my speech.

All the Government have done so far is bring Britain to a standstill. Their only solution is to tax the motorist off the road. We take a different view.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South 9:21 pm, 12th July 1999

For 21 minutes, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has tried to convince the House about why he abstained and saw fit not to have the courage of his convictions about the Committee's ninth report on the important issue of integrated transport policy. I have tried to recall how many sittings he attended. I am not sure; perhaps the record will show us. However, we have had 21 minutes of diatribe, with the hon. Gentleman trying to convince us that he feels strongly about these issues. One would have thought that he would have voted against the report. Nevertheless, that is for hon. Members to judge.

The Select Committee's report is important. What is worrying and discouraging is that the Opposition have tried to convince the public that the Government's integrated transport policy is anti-car. Of course, it is no such thing and the Select Committee has made it clear that it believes that it is no such thing. It is pro-transport. There is a big difference.

It is wrong to think that all of us can get in our cars and, particularly in urban areas, use them as we wish—to take our children to school and all the rest of it—without thinking about the effects on the environment, pollution, congestion and all the other issues that we are tremendously concerned about. The notion that those issues can be ignored and that people can simply say, "Government policy is anti-car and the Conservative party is pro-car, so we do not recognise that those things are a problem", seems disingenuous to say the least.

It is important to recognise that this is the first White Paper on integrated transport for some 20 years—that is my understanding from listening to the evidence to the Select Committee. That suggests that the previous Government, despite all the rhetoric and nonsense that Conservative Members come up with, were a little shy of tackling the problem. We could all play politics with the issue. Although I know that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire is quite adept playing politics—but abstains when it comes to voting—I think that he and I could agree that transportation is an extremely important issue.

The Select Committee's report is an extremely important document in the transport debate. Opposition Members who say that the Government's transport policy is anti-car, in an attempt to devalue the Government's policy and the Committee's ninth report, devalue only the Opposition. Particularly in urban areas, even car owners understand that we cannot use our cars as we wish, to go wherever we like. We realise that car use has knock-on effects and that we have to grapple with transport issues. The report identifies those issues. Moreover, as is right and proper, the report does not agree with every Government transport policy.

The public will not accept statements that the Government's policy is anti-car. Moreover, claims that it is simply demean the real arguments. We should not play party politics with the issue simply to make political capital, as the hon. Member for North Wiltshire has tried to do. That will not wash.

If the integrated transport policy is to succeed in the medium to long term—it is a medium to long-term issue—we shall have to promote public transport, which will entail nothing less than a renaissance of public transportation. The report identifies and addresses that issue—which I accept is a challenge for the Government.

The Government cannot develop and implement an integrated transport policy simply by saying that it will be done. We have not only to develop objectives, but to will and effect their implementation. First, however, we have to ensure that the relevant arguments are identified and made, as the report attempts to do.

We have to ensure also that, particularly in urban areas, more public transportation is provided as other transport measures are implemented. The report rightly identifies that requirement. As the report states, if we say that there will be restrictions—either fiscal or physical, such as bus lanes—on motor car use, but do not provide public transport alternatives, there is a danger that it will be difficult to make the policy a success. The report says not simply that the Government are right in their policy, but, "We think that the Government's objectives are right, but Ministers have to take certain actions to ensure that people have transportation alternatives."

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) mentioned the Manchester area. In my constituency, 3.2 km of motorway have just been built, right through an urban area. At 1992 prices—the previous Government decided to build the motorway—it has cost £40 million per mile. By the time the bills are paid, there will not be much change from £200 million. The experts tell me that, within 10 years, the road will have reached its design capacity—in other words, it will be congested.

The new A50 is designed to replace the old A50, which runs right through Stoke-on-Trent for some 13 miles, north to south. If we do not use this window of opportunity to develop public transport in that area, we shall have two congested roads in 10 or 12 years, and we shall have spent a quarter of a billion pounds on them. If that is the Opposition's transport policy, they should say so.

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Labour, Gillingham

I agree with my hon. Friend. A new bypass has been developed for the Medway towns, and rightly so. Does he agree that, because of the opportunities afforded by the Government to make sure that regional transport plans are developed, we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take advantage of these bypasses?

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

The Government's policies are not only working, but providing opportunities.

To carry out the policy, resources must be made available, as the Select Committee identified. To ring-fence resources for 10 years and to hypothecate them are important. However, as the Select Committee pointed out, that is putting the cart before the horse. We ought to be providing the resources now, and hypothecating them against future revenue streams.

If we can do that and if we can integrate the Select Committee report into Government policy, we shall have an excellent opportunity—for the first time in perhaps 50 years—to present this country with an integrated transport policy to take us into the 21st century.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett Labour, Denton and Reddish 9:32 pm, 12th July 1999

It is a little disappointing to be winding up on behalf of the Select Committee after such a short debate. It was a tragedy that the Opposition tried to eke out the first debate to cover up the fact that they had so little interest in the second debate—particularly on a day when they were trying to make policy announcements.

It was disappointing also that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) felt that he had to make a speech of 21 minutes, again to filibuster. Some of us on the Select Committee have felt sorry for the hon. Gentleman, who came on to the Committee at the start of this Parliament and is still there, whereas five of his colleagues have found their way on to the Conservative Front Bench. Following his speech today, I understand why he is still with us on the Select Committee.

I want to put on record my appreciation of Professor Peter Jones, who gave sound advice to the Select Committee, and to Kevin Lee, who worked hard to make sure that the evidence was nicely marshalled. I pay tribute also to all those who gave evidence. Select Committees depend on those people outside who take the time and trouble to give evidence.

We must look back over the previous two years and see what progress we have made on integrated transport. First, there is a recognition by the Government that we must put the environment and transport together. For the past 50 years at least, people have taken travel for granted. The assumption has been that travel is easy and that if one does a little more, it does not matter. We must recognise that it does matter, and that we cannot go on increasing the amount of travel that people do without thinking about it. If we are to integrate transport, the first thing we need is joined-up living. We have to try to ensure that as many people as possible, for as much of the time as possible, can live, work, shop, enjoy their leisure and take their children to school locally, without the need for expensive travel.

If we can get that message across over the next few years, we can make most people's quality of life far better, reducing congestion and pollution and making travel far easier. That point is at the heart of the Government's thinking and of their proposals for integrated transport, and the report emphasises it very strongly: it is the way forward.

We must not only ensure that services are available locally, but encourage people to buy local produce. I am not a great beer drinker, but it strikes me as significant that when I became a Member of Parliament 25 years ago, most of the beer drunk in Greater Manchester was brewed there, whereas most of the alcohol drunk in Manchester today rattles round the country, round Europe or even across the world. Has that choice been worth the extra pollution? Would not it be far better to buy local produce than stuff that has moved all round the world?

I believe firmly in the fuel escalator, and in congestion charging and charging for workplace parking; but if charging is to work, people must see the results at the point at which the charge is made. The Committee considered the example of the Netherlands where, to make the fuel escalator acceptable, income tax went down as the escalator went up. I do not mind what the Government come up with—it could be a reduced television licence for pensioners—but we must have some direct, hypothecated measure to go with the escalator, so that people can see that the tax is designed to change people's behaviour and not simply to raise money for the Treasury.

We must do much more to encourage people to do their own bit. Simply recognising that the speed limit should be enforced by us, and not by external means, would make a huge difference. Experiments on the M25 showed that if people travelled at lower speeds, but managed to retain those speeds throughout the journey, they got there quicker than if they went fast and then slow.

It is crazy to build speed humps in urban areas when, if we could simply persuade people to stay within the 30 mph limit, the roads would be far safer. One of the weaknesses that the Committee identified when it considered integrated transport was the failure to bring the home Office on board and to convince the police that they have a major role in ensuring that transport laws, such as those on bus lanes, are enforced.

I agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) that bus lanes and the quality of our bus services are essential to getting people back on to public transport. It is sad that there seems to be a class element that makes some people reluctant to travel on buses; interestingly, Manchester's experience shows that there is no such reluctance to travel on trams. Manchester already has significant metro lines and it would make a huge contribution to solving its transport problems if we could increase that critical mass.

The Select Committee report was good and the Government's response is excellent, but my constituents want to see an improvement in public transport now, not in 10 years' time.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:40 pm, 12th July 1999

I might spoil the day for the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) by welcoming many of his comments. The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the connection between transport and the environment—a connection that we made in our period in office and emphasised in the 1996 Green Paper. He is also right to talk about the need for joined-up living, and there is much to be commended in Lord Rogers's recent report on the urban renaissance, as he calls it, especially when it comes to ensuring that we build on brown-field sites. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) mentioned that issue, and we share his concern about protecting the environment and creating the critical mass in urban centres so that transport can be efficient and public transport can work effectively.

I also share the view of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish that we should consume more local produce, not less. That means, perhaps controversially, challenging the direction in which supermarkets have taken us. I am a strong supporter, for example, of the new farmers' market in my constituency in Colchester. That is the way that consumers, environmentalists and all of us want to go.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish was being a little more controversial than he realised when he talked about the need for overall fiscal neutrality in the tax changes on fuel, because that is certainly not his Government's policy. I also agree with him about the need to educate people about safety on our roads, especially the need to cut speed. Enforcement and speed humps are not necessarily the instant answer to every dangerous stretch of road.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish is also right in emphasising the need for quality public transport. On buses, it is hard to offer that quality, and tram systems, such as the Manchester metrolink—which was built under the Conservative Government—are the right way forward for public transport. We need a proper commitment to public transport as alternatives to the car. Unfortunately, the report, which was co-authored by the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and the rest of the Committee, does not reflect such objectives as dispassionately as they would like.

The report is disappointing. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) about the issue of taxation. It is sad that the Government's policies are characterised by their taxing motorists more and more for less and less benefit to the travelling public than we have ever seen before.

The really disappointing feature of the report is that it is stuck in a time warp. It is fighting the battles of the 1980s, which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich should know she lost. She lost the arguments about bus deregulation and competition, and rail privatisation. The evidence shows that transport investment is increasing in the industries privatised by the Conservative Government, which include airlines, airports, buses and coaches, and the railway—investment in which has doubled since it was privatised. Those areas are seeing investment, growth and success and we can look forward to a better future.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

The hon. Gentleman talked about investment in the railway network. What does he say about the eight railway lines—at least—that face cuts under privatisation?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport)

I would look at the evidence. Annual investment in the railways has doubled since privatisation. We want that investment to grow, as the railways are not yet good enough. Even Sir Alastair Morton, the rail supremo appointed by the Deputy Prime Minister, has said that it was always going to take 10 years after privatisation to get the railway system working. That view has been endorsed by the Government.

The growth in investment in all the modes of public transport that we privatised contrasts starkly with the catastrophe in the transport system for which the Government are responsible. Investment in the tube system has been slashed, after the Government cancelled the Conservative Government's investment plans. [Interruption.] Labour Members may laugh, but I would not be laughing if I were a tube commuter. I seem to have provoked the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), so I shall let him have a go at intervening.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

My question is quite simple. Why did the previous Conservative Government cut £320 million from tube investment just before the 1997 election?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman should look at the figures. During the previous Government's last year in office, more than £943 million was invested in the tube. At today's prices, that is equal to more than £1 billion. This Government have halved that investment. The hon. Gentleman may say that the Government inherited the Conservatives' plans, but our plans were premised on billions of pounds of new investment arising from privatisation. The Government have dithered for more than two years with their dotty public-private partnership. The present shameful closures are a sign that the tube is getting worse under this Government, and if the hon. Gentleman tries to blame it on us he is just shirking his responsibilities.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport)

No. The hon. Gentleman has been squashed, and that is enough of that.

I say to the Minister that we need more investment in public transport. That investment was secured in the industries that we privatised, but the Government's public-private partnership is a fiasco. The Minister should apologise to the people of London, who suffer every day from worsening congestion. [Interruption.] I can hardly hear myself think for the Minister shouting hysterically at me from a sedentary position.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. We want no comments from sedentary positions.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport)

We want investment in public transport and in alternatives to the car. We want there to be more choice so that there are alternatives to the car. However, the most fundamental problems that the Government have failed to address are traffic growth and congestion on our roads.

It is one thing to plan for alternatives to the car 20 years ahead, and to accomplish all the projects that the previous Conservative Government started. Those strands of thinking are evident in the Government's transport White Paper. It is quite another thing, and absolutely daft, simply to deny that traffic growth exists, slash the roads programme and expect the problem to go away. That is what the Government have done, however. Theirs is the most irresponsible and congestion-generating programme that could be conceived. As an act of deliberate policy, the Government have cut the programme of road improvements that would have relieved the congestion.

As we approach the close of the debate, one figure in the Government's estimates needs to be put in context. The Government—supported by a Select Committee which is, I am sorry to say, more concerned about propping up a failing Deputy Prime Minister and a failing Government with a failed transport policy than with its proper task of scrutinising the Executive—are fond of claiming that they are putting extra money into transport. We are told that the Government are putting an extra £1.8 billion into public transport, but we should examine the figures in the comprehensive spending review. That review shows that public spending on transport last year was £4.7 billion. This year it is £4.6 billion, and next year it will be £4.5 billion. The amount is therefore declining—the Government are cutting public transport investment.

That is the Government's policy. They have not only cancelled private investment schemes for the tube and the national air traffic control system—another scandal of which the Minister is in charge: they are cutting investment in those very transport networks that they claim to favour. They claim that public transport is their great priority, but they are taxing road users more and more. They are planning more and more taxes, so the road user will be fleeced, but less and less will be spent on public transport.

That is the catastrophe that the Government are visiting on the travelling public. The Government know that they should be ashamed of themselves. The Prime Minister knows that he is ashamed of his Deputy Prime Minister.

It is about time that the Minister for Transport, who is to reply, made a constructive contribution to the debate instead of thinking about getting back to Scotland.

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) 9:50 pm, 12th July 1999

We heard an interesting comment from the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) as he concluded. He seems to think that there is something wrong with hon. Members representing and taking an interest in their constituents. I wonder whether some of my colleagues in Essex might care to draw that to the attention of the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for her helpful contribution at the beginning of the debate and I also thank her co-Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). The Select Committee has put a considerable amount of work into the report and I commend all members of the Committee for the work that they put in—even those who could only abstain and who could not attend to cast a vote at the appropriate time.

In making that interesting point about the previous Government being on the road to Damascus, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich missed out some of the U-turns that they have been doing on that road, as we saw today. That fact was very much summed up in the speech by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who failed to recognise that the quotations that my hon. Friends were using were from the 1996 Conservative Green Paper. He also failed to recall that devolution means that transport is largely a reserved matter—only a few aspects of transport are devolved.

Let us get away from the collective amnesia of the Opposition this evening. Sometimes, I think that they must belong to some obscure cult where a button is pressed and they completely forget their past.

In many of her arguments, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich underlined the importance that the Government attach to transport, which was sadly neglected by the previous Government. That fact is underlined by the Opposition's statement today. Indeed, they have not explained how they would meet the £10 billion shortfall that has been exposed in their plans today.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. She has just given the game away. The Government are going to raise an extra £10 billion from the hard-pressed motorist, over and above what a Conservative Government would endeavour to raise. That is clear blue water between her policy and mine and I am proud of it.

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

The hon. Gentleman obviously has a bad attack of collective amnesia again. He is forgetting who introduced the fuel duty escalator.

Under this Government, we have seen 1,000 more train services every day, 16 new train stations, 70 new freight terminals and 1,500 new and enhanced bus services in rural areas. Bus investment is 80 per cent. Higher than it was five years ago and rail investment is 33 per cent. Higher than two years ago. We have also seen 37 new road schemes—including real bypasses—rather than the fantasy wish list that we got from the previous Government.

Some important points were made during the debate.

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Minister of State, Department for Transport, Minister of State (Transport), Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I am sorry, but I am under pressure of time and I want to answer some of the questions posed during the debate, so I will not give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich asked about security and enforcement on the public transport network, which the Government take very seriously. Indeed, we referred to it in our response to the report, both with the secure stations initiatives and also in our desire for much greater interchangeability, co-operation and co-ordination between all modes of transport—that extends to enforcement, too.

We have also issued guidelines for operators about personal security on public transport which offer advice on the role of staff. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich would accept that exact staffing levels are a matter for the individual companies. We are also providing £150 million over three years for closed circuit television and the infrastructure to enable it to operate successfully. This year, we shall commission research into improving personal security at bus stops and bus stations. That is very important to the travelling public, who understandably want a journey that is not only pleasant but safe.

My hon. Friend was very scathing, as she always is, in her remarks about Railtrack. She is aware that the Government share her view and the Committee's caution about Railtrack's 1999 network management statement. She referred to the establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority and the change that it will make to the fragmentation of the railway caused by the haphazard and ill-thought-out privatisation by the previous Government. We already have evidence from the National Audit Office which demonstrates what a giveaway Railtrack privatisation was.

We shall expect the new regulator, which will have new powers, to take appropriate action to ensure that Railtrack complies with all its obligations. That will be a considerable improvement, and we look forward to seeing the shadow Strategic Rail Authority—followed by the actual authority, when it is formally underpinned by statute—being able to implement more significant regulatory powers.

There is a sense of urgency in the Government about transport because it is a quality-of-life issue that affects the vast majority of people in this country. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich is proud of the report; she has every reason to be proud.

Several points have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) referred to the increase in asthma in the population. I thought it was interesting that the document published by the Conservative party made little reference to the impact on the environment of pollution. Each year, 23,000 people die prematurely from diseases that are directly related to pollution. Is it not interesting that one of the proposals in the Conservative party's document is to remove vehicle excise duty on cars that are more than 25 years old? Those are the very cars that cause the most pollution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) made several points, particularly about the Manchester metro. I am very interested in its development, and I look forward to further proposals for its extension. He also talked about the bus industry. I reiterate how anxious the Government are that there should be quality partnerships, leading to quality contracts that are underpinned to ensure that the general public get the best possible deal from the bus network. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the bus system must not become one that is used only by the poor. It is a key aspect of ensuring that we have an integrated, effective transport policy.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire seemed, as usual, to be exhibiting his split personality. I was saddened by the snobbishness that he displayed about the Deputy Prime Minister. After all, the hon. Gentleman was a maritime broker who had never been on board a ship. As a son of the manse, it illbefits him to be so snobbish and to espouse the politics of envy, as he has done tonight. He pointedly has not listened to the proposals that the Government are developing.

This has been an interesting debate on a detailed report in response to the integrated transport White Paper. The Government have made a commitment to work in partnership to promote an integrated transport policy. I commend those who took part in the discussions and I look forward to the implementation of that policy by a Government who believe in integrated transport, public transport and a fair deal for the motorist.

It being Ten o' clock, MADAM SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Questions which she was directed by paragraphs (4) and (5) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) to put at that hour.